Sunday, September 16, 2007

Q & A with Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Back in November of 2006, I posted an essay by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, a prolific author and self-described late bloomer. (Click here to read.) Now that Carolyn has a new book out, the time seemed ripe to do an interview with her. I think you'll be inspired by what she has to say.

Prill: Talk about being a late bloomer.

Carolyn: That term is one that gets bandied around a lot in our family. Originally I thought of myself as an early bloomer. I was the youngest person to ever be hired as a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune. But then I gave up on my writing career, as many women in my generation were wont to do. You know, children. Husband. So when I got back to writing, it was pretty late.

Prill: You mentioned your family…

Carolyn: Yes, my mother, who will be 90 this February, calls my daughter a late bloomer. She's getting a Ph.D. in her early forties. Heck, I consider people in their early 40s, mmmm, babies.

Prill: So, was it slow going when you did get back to the writing you love?

Carolyn: Actually not. You know, when we start a second or third career, we have everything we've done before--all that experience--to put to work in favor of the new effort. I had been a publicist and worked for Good Housekeeping magazine right after my newspaper stint. That helped. My husband and I had owned our own business. That helped. And, there is just something about wisdom. It seems that it naturally collects in wrinkles. I think my fiction is gentler than it would have been when I was young. I am a more confident promoter now than I would have been when I was young, and we all know how important that is to a writing career.

Prill: Does that have something to do with why you started your How To Do It Frugally Series of books for writers?

Carolyn: Yes, I wanted to share all the potholes I fell into when my first books were published. I learned how book promotion differs from other promotion. I even had to learn that promotion is something authors have to do if they don't want their books to die. Every single promotion idea in The Frugal Book Promoter: How to do What Your Publisher Won't is something I tried myself and learned from. No one else need go through what I did. This book will let them pick and choose what's best for them and give them all the little tricks to make whatever they choose successful.

Prill: And now you are releasing The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success

Carolyn:Yes, and you know, it turns out that The Frugal Editor is a lot about marketing, too. Writers have to market themselves every day with proposals, cover letters, query letters. A poorly edited query can mean an unsold book! Editing isn't all about grammar and structure and dialogue tags. Many of us make lots of errors that annoy people like agents and publishers and contest judges without even realizing it. I mean, they aren't errors that your English teacher would have rapped your knuckles over. They're perfectly good, grammatical statements or punctuation or any number of things that tip gatekeepers off that we're amateurs.

Prill: Back to that part about starting over—as a late bloomer.

Carolyn: The only real drawback of this late bloomer thing is that I have a sense that I must follow my heart in choosing what I write. That's not all bad, of course, but it means I am not making choices based on what is best for my career but, really, on what I want to do. It sounds spoiled but that's another thing that happened to me as I aged.

Prill: I presume you’re referring to your bout with cancer?

Carolyn: They are related—the cancer and the aging. Life is so short. When you start feeling at a gut level that life will end instead of just knowing intellectually that it will, you might use different guidelines to make your choices. I sure did. And it's not all bad. Poetry doesn't sell in large numbers but oh! The joy! And there's so much of that same emotion in helping other writers. So, that's what I do.


Note: Carolyn's website is She blogs at, (a blog on turning a ho-hum book fair into a sizzling success), and She also edits a newsletter in association with Authors' Coalition, an organization she founded ( Subscribe by sending an e-mail with "subscribe" in the subject line to


  1. Anonymous4:37 PM

    I appreciated Carolyn's comment about making choices from the heart. It was validating to hear this from someone with a successful career.

    At age 56, I've been writing for three years now. I've chosen to write what inspires me, instead of what sells. Some of my colleagues remind me that that's no way to make a living. But as I get older, making a living comes to mean making a life, where it used to mean making an income.

    I watch the little ways that my body is slowly breaking down - the knees, the eyesight, the memory. Observing this with a writer's slightly more objective view, I see the body marching inexorably towards death. And it definitely brings a sense of immediacy to the choices I make.

    I love this stage of my life. I love having the wisdom to see the beauty in the cycle. I love having the wisdom to feel gratitude for the joy that writing brings me.

    Thank you for the inspiration.


  2. Hi Dawn,

    Carolyn's comment about making choices from the heart is what most struck me as well. I feel the same way.

  3. Well, Prill, Google Alerts is doing its job. I found out this morning that you had posted this review. It is just lovely. Watch for the more formal thank you in my newsletter, Sharing with Writers. And thank you to Dawn, too.
    Along that line (seeing as most of us are mature women here!), right after I had surgery for cancer, I read something from Deepak Chopra. He noted that if we live to 50 today we have already lived beyond the average lifespan of the people of Pompeii. AND we very well may have lived only half our lifetime by today's projections. So, at 60, I began to feel as if I had another lifetime ahead of me for another career--maybe two! Remember, we get to deduct 20 years--all those years spent growing up and getting educated. We've already done that!! (-;
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

  4. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Love this interview. Sometimes I find myself focusing on the wrong goals. Carolyn sets us straight on the importance of following our hearts.

    I have great respect for Carolyn's work. It's heartening to read about her views on life, writing and aging. Thank you for sharing with us, Carolyn.